Going beyond crisis mode

Massachusetts Department of Public Health

The Challenge

More than a number

More than a number

In July of 2023 the National Suicide Prevention and Crisis Lifeline switched from a ten-digit phone number to a new easy to remember number, 988. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health approached us to help spread awareness of the new number as the go-to resource for accessible mental health support. The response to the 988 transition across social media and various news outlets, however, was mixed. Many cited concerns of potential police involvement, lack of trust in the lifeline call takers, and general confusion about when to use 988. Though the number is meant to help anyone going through a wide array of mental health-related issues, words like “suicide” and “crisis” positioned the lifeline as a solution of last resort. We had to determine how to break down these barriers and position 988 as an upstream, trustworthy resource for all Massachusetts residents.

Services Provided:

  • Strategy
  • Creative and Design
  • Content
  • Video / Photography
  • Advertising
  • Social / Cause Marketing
  • Stakeholder Outreach and Community Engagement
  • Motion / Graphics / Animation

The Solution

Always there for you

After conducting a statewide online survey, in-depth interviews, and an ethnographic social media study, what we found was clear: people were open to the idea of 988, but many were concerned about privacy and police intervention, and dubious about whether their issues were “worthy” of 988. Our answer: position the Lifeline as an approachable emotional support service that meets audiences where they already are. Our campaign, “Always there” featured light-hearted scenes that integrated 988 into everyday situations, assuring our audience that we would be there whenever and wherever they need someone who cares. By avoiding language and imagery that spoke of crisis and suicide, the campaign gave the 988 experience a lifestyle feel that helped to lower the barrier of entry, build trust in our communities, and open the door to more positive mental health outcomes.

The Results

A new perspective

Our campaign delivered over 132.7 million impressions across digital and out-of-home channels throughout the state. Most notably, the sense of community our social ads created across Massachusetts on Facebook was revealing and inspiring. The comment section featured hundreds of “Amen’s”, and dozens of “wonderful news!” and “thank you’s” – and no mention of crisis, suicide, or police intervention. Within a year we were able to successfully shift the narrative from skepticism, negativity, and resistance, to one of support and gratitude. And that’s something worth celebrating.